For this whole pandemic, I’ve had this admittedly distant relationship with this terrible disease. I certainly mourn the more than half a million COVID deaths in this country. I am troubled by the more than 32 million people who have suffered with the disease. And I am concerned for the long-term impact for those, like some of my colleagues, who continue to experience symptoms months after testing positive.
Still all the deaths, the rising and falling cases, the fatigue and heroism of my colleagues in healthcare, even the fear that makes my friends and the patients I write about desperate for a vaccine—none of this has touched me, not directly, not with any real impact. Until yesterday.
For weeks, everyone I know has been getting vaccinated, while I sit and wait for my turn. I’m not old enough, unhealthy enough, or essential enough. That has been my refrain. Being under 65 and safely tucked away at home and healthy, I don’t yet qualify in the prioritization of vaccine distribution. I’m part of phase 2: everybody else. Until yesterday.
Yesterday, my friend Liz, who is a nurse at the university, called me. It’s been far too long since I’ve seen Liz, so I was surprised when her name appeared on my caller ID. She was working at the vaccine clinic and she wanted to let me know my time had come. “We have vaccine available and no one in line,” she said. “If you can get here by 7:30, you can get one.”
It was 6:00. I jumped into the shower and then into the car. As I drove to the shopping center where the clinic was set up, I realized I was excited about this. After months of biding my time and anticipating at least another couple weeks of waiting, I was finally going to get my shot! I would take pictures. I would send them to friends to announce this thrilling experience. This was cause for celebration!
I danced into the cavernous space arrayed with two-dozen vaccinator stations, a long row of check-in stations, and dozens of friendly people to usher me efficiently through this rite of passage. And though no one could tell, because it was covered by my mask, my smile was huge.
I was able to ask for Liz to give me my shot. My friend and I talked and laughed and caught up, and she took my picture. We were having so much fun that I either lost my vaccine card or she forgot to give it to me. So after my 15 minutes of hanging out to see if I would have an allergic reaction, I had to go back and have her make me a new one.
But this morning, as I lay in bed worrying whether the vague headache I feel is a side effect of the Pfizer vaccine or merely my usual need for morning coffee, it occurs to me that now this virus has actually touched me. (At least an mRNA representation of the virus has.) It is inside my body. And now my amazing body is doing what needs to be done to make sure I can continue to feel untouched by COVID. I’m so grateful!